Reviving Retro: KC’s Arcade Bars
Some trends are best left in the past. Pet rocks, keytars, Furbies and more all illustrate just how silly some fads can be. Plenty deserve to stick around, however, and KC’s recent surge in arcade bars is a prime example, pulling a concept from the not-so-distant past—gaming with others in public—into the 21st Century with a unique nightlife twist. These joystick joints serve up more than nostalgia though, thanks to expansive local brews on tap and food far greater than the greasy slice of pizza you used to get in between sessions of “Galaga.”
Here are the best places in KC to get your game on:
Embrace The Eighties (and The Nineties, too)
Situated in the middle of the Crossroads Arts District, Up-Down is a 80s- and 90s-themed arcade bar and one of the most popular after-hours destinations in town. It isn’t just the more than 50 arcade games or the giant Nintendo 64 setup that transports you back in time—TVs play a constant loop of classic wrestling matches, Saved by the Bell episodes and movies twenty- and thirtysomethings grew up on. Plus, there are as many beers on tap as there are games to play, many of them brewed right in town.
Don’t worry about bringing your coin purse, either. Tokens can be purchased at any of the bars, and often are given away or at discount during weekly specials. Those looking for some fresh air can venture upstairs to the patio for a great view and a game of giant Jenga or Connect Four.
Pass the Day Away with Unlimited Play
It’s more than just pinball and “NBA Jam” that draw crowds at Tapcade at Crossroads. A dine-in theatre and menu full of bar favorites and burritos accompany the arcade’s many games—a rotating mix of more than 40 favorites—and extensive craft beer list. Take a break from the excitement by catching a flick on the big screen, which features movies new and old, many of them classic films you won’t want to miss as they hit the theatre again.
The games are Tapcade’s bread and butter though thanks to some of the most popular titles of all time. The best part? No coins or tokens are necessary thanks to a $5 unlimited play option, meaning that you can finally beat “Ms. Pacman” without exhausting your extensive state quarter collection. Play old-school favorites and sip on flavorful craft beer at Draftcade, an arcade bar concept in Zona Rosa.
Reclaim Your Title as Pinball Wizard
Don’t let the exterior fool you—403 Club is a proving ground to those skilled enough to consider themselves pinball wizards. Gather round the machines for a glimpse of the action, or step up to the helm yourself and take aim at the high score. The games are all relatively new (rotating titles include Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead, for example) and in great condition thanks to regular cleaning and maintenance.
Meanwhile, true champions and Tilt fanatics test their abilities every first Saturday of the month at official tournaments endorsed by the International Flipper Pinball Association and World Pinball Player Rankings. Wait for your turn by grabbing a game of billiards at one of the many pool tables, or stand by with a drink in hand and watch someone else work their magic.
Blast from the Past
Image via National Archives
The recent uptick in KC arcades didn’t come from thin air. Part of the movement is rooted in the city’s history, most notably at 12th and Grand, where the Wonderland Arcade sat for nearly four decades. Home to old-school games such as pinball machines, shooting galleries and penny games, the establishment defined KC arcades up until the advent and burst in popularity of video games in the mid-1980s.
The arcade didn’t survive into the 21st Century, but instead lives on in history thanks to some incredible photos taken during a 1968 inspection of the facility, proving that while technology may change, Kansas City’s appetite for arcade games remains as prominent as ever.